Catching Up with NLM Catalogers

Read other profiles: Diane Boehr | Sharon Brown | Phyllis Chui | Karen Detling | Meredith Horan | Ihsia Hu | Elizabeth Lilker | Christine Mandic | Elizabeth Plantz | Tina Shrader | Alvin Stockdale | Sharon Willis

Quick Q&A with Sharon Willis, Karen Detling, and Ihsia Hu
Question Sharon Willis Karen Detling Ihsia Hu
headshot of Sharon Willis headshot of Karen Detling headshot of Ihsia Hu
What got you interested in cataloging and how did you get started as a cataloger? The year was 1980. I was about to graduate from Morgan Statue University with a degree in history and had no job prospects. I did not want to teach. My professor suggested that I enroll in library school since I spent most of my time in the library doing research. While attending library school at Catholic University, I was exposed to various areas of librarianship. I found my niche in technical services, and cataloging in particular. I was introduced to cataloging during the Organization of Information class in library school at the University of Maryland. It clicked with me because in many ways it was similar to my work in law, my previous career, in that it involved a set of rules that were interpreted and applied. Diane Boehr was my cataloging professor during my last semester. Fortunately, at that time two cataloging positions opened up at NLM, which she informed us about. I like to be organized, and cataloging is the organization of knowledge. I started to like cataloging while in library school.
In a nutshell, what is your background? After graduating from library school in 1983 (and getting married in the same year), I worked for a library contractor for a few years until I got “the call” from NLM to interview for the position of cataloger. My name was on a list of librarians interested in federal employment. The rest is history. I’ve been at the same institution, the same division, and the same section since 1986. At least my position did change to Senior Cataloging Specialist (not the geriatric kind). I have an AB in International Affairs and Spanish from Lafayette College. I moved to Maryland after college and worked for two years at the ACLU of Maryland, which inspired me to go to law school. After clerking for a judge and practicing law for several years, I decided on a career change. I had worked at my college library, and that experience inspired me to pursue my MLS. Although I technically worked in acquisitions, it was a small college library, so I also dabbled in periodicals and cataloging, where eventually I was allowed to file cards in the card catalog—but only above the bar. I was born in Taiwan and also lived in China before moving to the US. I have a BA in zoology and MLIS, both from the University of Hawaii.
Where else in your life do you use your organizational skills? I organize my clothes closet. All like colors must be hung together. This was important after I found myself with four green dresses. Sadly, not many places, but I’m always happy to tell my children how they could be more organized. Keeping different types of snacks in different cabinets.
What excites you the most about your work? I am excited about problem resolution: Is the author, J. Smith, the same person as the John Smith, who writes on molecular biology? (Inquiring minds want to know). How can I translate the topics covered in the book to NLM’s official controlled vocabulary and classification. (plug:  The Cataloging and Metadata Management Section oversees the development of the NLM Classification; I am the chair of the editorial team.) On a macro level, I enjoy being part of an organization that provides high quality cataloging to the library community. I’m also a member of the team that develops the NLM Classification, which is used by libraries around the world.

On a micro level, I get excited about each new item I catalog. Some are straightforward, but some provide a real challenge. There is great satisfaction in tracking down sometimes elusive information about an author or subject, finding the right MeSH, etc. It’s fun to work with so many different materials from many different time periods. And, it’s great to work with such knowledgeable, fun, and kind colleagues.

I find being a cataloger is enjoyable and rewarding because I can read new books and contribute to the world of medical knowledge at the same time.
If you weren’t a cataloger, what else might you have been? I would have been an historian specializing in African-American history. When I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian. Although I’m not up to that task, I think it would be great to work with animals in some way. Public health educator
Tell us something surprising about yourself. I teach Black History classes at my church during the month of February. All is not lost. I have seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at least six times. I am a US Army veteran.

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3 thoughts on “Catching Up with NLM Catalogers

  1. Pingback: Weekly Postings | The MARquee

  2. How do you feel about MeSH for identifying the subject content in works related to health services administration, nursing and allied health professionsAlso, do you think that inverted headings are obsolete now that we don’t use card catalogs? They’re definitely difficult to explain to anyone who’s never seen a card catalog (or print index).

  3. Pingback: 2018’s Seasons of Stories from NLM in Focus | NLM in Focus

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